The Antiphons: Hymns of Holy Delight

Below the reader will find my translation of sermon 11 in the series of sermons by St. Seraphim on the Div. Liturgy. May his inspired words of explanation on the Div. Liturgy continue to stir up in us a deeper love for God and a greater zeal to worship Him. (All titles are my own for the purposes of my blog).

Sermon 11

On this day when we commemorate the fiery servant of the altar, St. Mitrophan, I will continue with my explanation of the Divine Liturgy. Together, my friends, we will examine the inspired psalms of David, which are marvelous in their depth of thought and the strength of their prophecy. During the Divine Liturgy, you sing certain psalms which are called antiphons. I have already told you that antiphons are the songs of the prophets who have come to bow before the birth of Him Who delivered them from the darkness of hell.

The first psalm (Ps. 102)1 of the king and prophetic singer David starts with exclamations of delight and wonder, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Behold, O my soul, what a joyful miracle stands before you; the very Lord Himself has come to save you, therefore bless Him! As we move on in our singing, this delight is only strengthened, for not only do we sing “Bless the Lord, O my soul” but also, “All that is within me bless His Holy Name” – with my inner strength, with all of it, bless the Lord! What a magnificent prophecy! Right now, are we not blessing the Lord and His Holy Name with all the strength of our life which has been renewed in Christ? Of what name does the prophet speak? Of that which the Lord Himself has proclaimed; that Name which the whole world pronounces with trepidation – Jesus the Savior. This is the Name that David foresaw. “Bless the Lord … and forget not all that He hath done for thee,” do not forget His gifts because they are infinitely great. By His power, He has cleansed you from all your iniquities. Are we not cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ from all the sins that torment us? He heals your every disease and illness; further, the psalmist foresaw how He would deliver you from this corrupt existence. He is risen and we are risen; He crowned you with His mercy and compassion, and He fulfills your good desires. Renewed, your strength2 shall rise like an eagle.

The prophet further exclaims, “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, Longsuffering and of great kindness” (vs. 8). What overflowing mercy! The Lord is not wroth to the end, even though we may deserve it. Moreover, He does not deal with you as you deserve, nor according to your iniquities. He has not given unto you, He has not dealt with you, as your sins deserve. No, rather, His mercy is eternally great; He has spread His mercy over you like the great expanse between heaven and earth. Not only has He covered you with His mercy, but He has also “Removed our iniquities from us, as far as the east is from the west,” that is, completely removed them. “Like as a father hath compassion upon his sons, so hath the Lord had compassion on those that fear Him” (vs. 13). Yet again the prophet prophetically sees, “He knoweth whereof we are made” (vs. 14). Through the incarnation He has known us, His creation; He has remembered that we are but earth and that a person’s days are as grass and as a flower of the field – so short is his earthly path. “The Lord in heaven hath prepared His throne” (vs. 19), says King David, and he foresees that everyone will bless the Name of God. “Bless the Lord, all ye His angels, mighty in strength …” (vs. 20). And with even greater strength, he calls “Bless the Lord, all ye His hosts,” (vs. 21) together with all His works; with holy delight, he ends, “In every place of His dominion, bless the Lord, O my soul” (vs. 22).

The whole of this psalm is permeated with thankfulness before the generous compassion of the Lord and with holy delight before His majesty. The second antiphon expresses even more of the prophet-king’s delight. He does not simply call his soul (to bless) but he praises and pours forth his delight, and that he does so in such a manner that, it may be said, he himself embodies praise, for it is said of him that he “danced and played” before the Ark.3

“Praise the Lord, O my soul,” he proclaims and answering himself, says, “I will praise the Lord in all my life, I will chant unto my God for as long as I have my being” (Ps. 145:1). Do not put any hope in people, for in them there is no salvation. Their spirit will depart and leave them and they will return unto the earth. But whoever has the God of Israel as a helper, such a person is blessed; God is the Creator of all things and He will give judgment and protect the wronged. All those who sorrow will find protection in Him; He gives food to the hungry and He looses the fettered and gives freedom to the prisoners; the blind He enlightens with wisdom and He lifts up and protects the proselytes, orphans, and widows. The psalmist finishes his psalm with joyful solemnity, “The Lord shall be king unto eternity … unto generation and generation” (Ps. 104:10).

While the antiphons are being sung, the priest says certain prayers that, it may be said, summarize all the themes that are sung in the antiphons. “O Lord, our God, Thy power is incomparable. Thy glory is incomprehensible.”4 Here, as in Psalm 102, is glorified the infinite mercy and inexpressible love for mankind of God, and His tender mercies are invoked upon those gathered in prayer. The second (priestly) prayer calls the blessing of God upon His Church and inheritance. The second antiphon ends with the hymn that was composed by Emperor Justinian the Great, “Only Begotten Son.” The angels glorify Him, the prophets praise Him, and now with the words of Emperor Justinian the race of humanity glorifies Him and cries, “Save, O Lord, save us!”

1According to the numbering of the LXX (Septuagint).

2Or youth

3Cf. 1 Sam./King. 6:14ff)

4From the first priestly prayer

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